MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A tumultuous week for Morgantown’s deputy mayor, possibly the zenith of a stormy few months and first term for Mark Brazaitis, has settled on a discussion about whether or not he should keep his job.
“I have asked Mark to consider resigning (as deputy mayor), and he declined,” Third Ward Councilman Ryan Wallace said Wednesday on WAJR’s Morgantown AM. “And so I felt that it was appropriate at that point to make some comments in council.”
That discussion, however, is not related to his role on city council.
“I have no problem with Mark being an elected official on city council,” Wallace said. “I would not seek his removal from office. I think he has a strong mandate from supporters, from voters in the city. And I don’t disrespect that at all.”
Wallace broached the subject of removing Brazaitis from the Deputy Mayor’s chair during Council’s Tuesday night meeting. Brazaitis, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jenny Selin, and First Ward Councilwoman Rachel Fetty were all absent.
“As far as being Deputy Mayor, I guess we do need to talk about it,” councilman Barry Wendell, representing the Seventh Ward, said after Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Wendell continued, “I can’t say how I would vote on that. As far as removing him from the council, absolutely not.”
Mayor Bill Kawecki said the discussion item on Brazaitis’ removal as deputy mayor would move forward to the next agenda.
“Unfortunately, Mark has put himself in a position of having people seeing him to be speaking for Council,” Mayor Bill Kawecki said. “I know for a fact that Council has some reservations about that. It has been expressed to me, and I think it is certainly appropriate to move that to the agenda.”
Wallace said there is a perception that, as deputy mayor, Brazaitis is the voice of Morgantown City Council. Whether that perception is accurate or not, Wallace said it must be considered.
“The fact that a lot of people view the deputy mayor as somehow a spokesman for the city, somehow a higher level of authority on council, when in fact it is a ceremonial office,” Wallace said. “It is a Robert’s Rules position of a deliberative assembly, and it is, in many ways, very similar to other council positions.”
Brazaitis has been involved in several very well publicized disagreements with the city’s parks and recreation focused BOPARC Board, the Mylan Park Board, Monongalia County Commission, the Hazel-Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust, the Monongalia County Democratic Committee, several fellow council members, and his own employer — West Virginia University.
“It’s hard to tell exactly at which point you decide something is serious enough that it warrants a comment or some sort of official action on council,” Wallace said. “I’ve had growing concerns, and I raised some of those concerns with Mark last week and again early this week.”
Mending those fences could take some work, Wallace admitted.
“I have concerns about some of the things that Mark has concerns about, but I also believe that you have to bring people along with you,” he said. “When you’re trying to achieve something, you can’t unnecessarily alienate them.”
WVU, the local Democratic Party committee, and the Charitable Trust all responded publicly to particularly divisive comments Brazaitis made at public meetings. This was before Brazaitis announced a pell-mell write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate, claiming that he would be running against “either two or three Republicans,” referring to Democrat Joe Manchin as a Republican and possible Constitution Party candidate Don Blankenship as an obvious Republican.
The Secretary of State’s Office confirmed Thursday Brazaitis has not filed the paperwork to be an official write-in candidate, but has until September 18 to file.
Brazaitis made his announcement Monday. What followed next: police responded to a call at Brazaitis’ home in Morgantown that night. He wasn’t there, but disappeared for about 15 hours while law enforcement from the Morgantown Police Department and Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office searched for him pertaining to a “non-criminal” matter.
Brazaitis was checked into Ruby Memorial Hospital Tuesday morning, before eventually being cleared at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
He announced on Facebook that he was never in any danger, also thanking Councilwoman Rachel Fetty and one other resident for picking him up from the hospital. He also claimed to have been in constant contact with a number of people during his time missing.
Then, Wednesday morning, Brazaitis was back at it. One week after a very public dispute with Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom, Brazaitis appeared at a work session to announce his support for an $8.5 million dollar levy for significant upgrades to the Morgantown Municipal Ice Arena. The levy, which does not currently have the support of either the City of Morgantown or the governing agency, BOPARC, remains up for discussion by county commission, though Bloom expressed his doubts about the levy Wednesday.
“Someone has to oversee and run it,” Bloom said. “And if BOPARC and the city have chosen not to do that, I have a concern about obligating them for those funds.”
The proposed three-year levy would obligate BOPARC to pick up maintenance costs, and Bloom said he doesn’t believe Commission has the authority to force BOPARC to pick up such a tab.
Additionally, this would be the fifth active levy in the county, if it was ever placed on a ballot and approved. Bloom said this individual levy would increase the current cost of taxpayer funded levies in the county by around 67 percent.
Meanwhile, Brazaitis described himself as “fine” following his ordeal earlier this week.
“I was always fine,” he said. “I just needed an expert in the field, which I found at the eighth best mental health facility in the country. I want to repeat that: eighth best. (The doctor) looked at me for 15 minutes and said, after an interview with me, she said basically, ‘You’re fine. Go home.'”
The embattled deputy mayor attempted to assure everyone that he was never in any danger Monday or Tuesday, despite what was read or heard in local media.
“I know myself,” Brazaitis said. “I know I am healthy. The community doesn’t know my status, because they don’t live inside my head. And they read superficial things about me. Is it so crazy to ask for an $8.5 million levy that would benefit our entire community? I don’t think so, but apparently some people in the community think so.”
Brazaitis serves as Mason Dixon Figure Skating Club Vice President and faculty adviser to WVU’s Figure Skating team, which is the role he claimed to be representing during his push for the county commission to adopt a levy that hadn’t been supported by the body he had been elected to in 2017.
“If yelling at your daughters to grow up and support your dad, and banging on their bedroom door to emphasize the point, saying ‘I have a realistic chance of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate’ constitutes bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive disorder, and deserves to leave a city’s deputy mayor, and just as important, the Mason Dixon Figure Skating Club’s Vice President for Learn to Skate and the faculty adviser for WVU Figure Skating, in handcuffs for four hours — including a period in which he had to feed himself breakfast — there’s something wrong with this picture. You don’t know what bipolar disorder is,” Brazaitis said at one point during a public portion of the Monongalia County Commission.
Wallace is asking Brazaitis to step down as deputy mayor voluntarily.
“I think this would be the ideal situation, voluntarily step down so he can focus on other things so he can continue to advocate for the causes he cares about without causing any confusion amongst constituents as to his role,” Wallace said.
Wallace continued, “I have a lot of respect for Mark’s zeal. I agree with him on a lot of the goals for the city. I disagree with him on the means and the methods that we use to achieve those goals.”